MORRILL MEMORIAL LIBRARY

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A Lesson in Adapting

computer“When in doubt, go to the library.” This famous line from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets perfectly encapsulates how I feel about libraries. As a Library Teacher, and lifelong patron turned part-time employee of Morrill Memorial Library, I may be somewhat biased, but I have always felt that libraries have the power to meet so many different needs. But what happens when we can’t go to the library?

The COVID-19 pandemic pressed pause on almost everything in our lives. Restaurants, stores, offices and schools all closed in an effort to stop the spread and keep everyone safe. Businesses were forced to find creative ways to navigate this new world and libraries were no different. I had the unique opportunity to see these changes and innovations firsthand in both the public library and school library setting.

As a Library Teacher overseeing two elementary school libraries in Newton, my days are typically filled with teaching classes, checking books out to students and collaborating with school staff. In March of 2020 everything changed. As educators, we were tasked with creating a new virtual curriculum that could keep students engaged and learning through a computer screen. One colleague likened the challenge to building a plane as you fly it.

I was fortunate that my subject area translated well into this online medium, but it didn’t make the transition much easier. In many ways I felt like a first year educator again. Everything was new and overwhelming and I felt unsure of myself and my teaching abilities. Rather than welcoming students into the library and sitting together on our multicolor rug, I greet students with a wave and smile as their faces populate my laptop screen for our library class on Zoom. The concept of teaching elementary aged students online sounded impossible when the pandemic first began. I soon realized, however, that while I could not replicate the in-person library experience my students were accustomed to, I could still provide them with creative and engaging alternatives. In particular, browsing and borrowing books in a library has always been a hands-on and personal experience. Normally, my students come into the library and cannot wait for the opportunity to choose books for themselves. They look forward to pulling books off the shelf, holding them in their hands, flipping through the pages and making the decision about which to take home. That experience is very different now. Instead, I walk students through the steps of how to access e-books, place digital holds, and model how to download books directly to their devices.

Initially, I worried about what my students would be missing out on with virtual library class, but we have been able to accomplish many things I thought impossible last spring. Students in first grade are conducting research on their iPads and gathering information from library databases all while on Zoom. Fourth grade students are practicing website evaluation and learning how to cite sources. Learning and finding joy in reading is still happening; it just looks different right now. I teach close to thirty virtual classes a week and find that my time together with the students flies by. Before I know it I am saying goodbye and logging off to join my next Zoom.

My experience this last year is not unique. All educators have had to rise to the occasion and focus their efforts on reimagining education in these uncharted circumstances.

Similarly, public libraries faced the question of how to continue to provide services to their patrons when many locations were closed to the public. Working at Morrill Memorial Library during the pandemic, I had the opportunity to see a public library navigate the redesign of community outreach and delivery of library services. In the Children’s Department specifically, the staff quickly concluded that if the community could not come to the library, the library would go to the community, and with that, the Pop Up Library was born. Led by Kate Tigue, Head of Youth Services, the weekly Pop Up Library allowed the Children’s Department staff to travel to each school in Norwood with popular titles for children and teens to check out in a distanced outdoor setting. This ingenious endeavor was an enormous success in the summer and fall of 2020 and an amazing opportunity to witness library innovation at work. The library’s creativity has not stopped as librarians conduct regular Zoom story times, offer personalized book bundles for check out, provide virtual programming, and weekly make-and-take crafts.

This pandemic has taught me that libraries are more than just the physical space they inhabit, and that information and learning can be brought to people in ways we never contemplated before.

Maureen Riordan is a Part-time Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the March 25, 2021 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

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